Jewels is a trilogy of one-act ballets, created in 1967 for the New York City Ballet by its founder and chief choreographer, George Balanchine and here danced by the Royal Ballet.
The three pieces — Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds — are complete in themselves and can be performed separately, so it is a real treat to see the ballet as a whole danced on the Covent Garden stage.
Where once Balanchine’s style — all angles, speed and precision — was somewhat alien to our home-grown dancers, now the Royal Ballet is made up of such a diverse group of internationally trained performers that tackling something so different to the English (and for that, read “Ashton”) style holds no fears.
Jewels is said to have been inspired by a visit by Balanchine to the New York jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels, but he later stated the ballet had nothing to do with jewels, the dancers are just dressed as gems. And how glorious the costumes are! The evening begins with Emeralds, the women dressed in floating, long, green tutus in the romantic style, ideal for interpreting Faure’s lush music. In this piece, Yuhui Choe and Valeri Hristov are the central couple, coolly elegant and remote. Francesca Hayward is a heart winner with her playful, light solo — what a gem of a dancer she is.
Rubies, in contrast, is set to a jazzy score by Stravinsky. It is, perhaps, Balanchine at his most familiar — pelvic thrusts and jutting hips, extreme extensions and sharp footwork. The women in this sassy, sexy piece are dressed in ruby-coloured leotards with fringed, short skirts (which audibly rattle because of the gems attached to them); the men are similarly clothed in red tunics. Mayara Magri and Marcelino Sambe shine in the central pas de deux. Here is Broadway glamour and real New York glitz. Sambe makes light work of his jumps and turns, spinning off into the wings with incredible speed, drawing, when I was there, a gasp of delight from the audience. Gina Storm-Jensen puts in a strong performance, but there is no need for her to grin her way through the dances — Balanchine always let the steps do the talking.
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 in D is used for the final piece of the evening, Diamonds. Here Balanchine pays tribute to his Russian heritage, with a piece of stunning beauty. This section uses the largest number of dancers, clad in white, with sparkling gemstones setting off the classical tutus. Watch carefully and you can see the references to the great classics in the intricate choreography: arms and wrists echoing the white act of Swan Lake, or Raymonda, the corps patterns suggest Sleeping Beauty.
Sarah Lamb dominates the stage in the lead ballerina role, her balances steady, her beautiful legs in lovely arabesques, with steady partnering from Ryoichi Hirano. The corps dances magnificently, bringing the evening to a literally glittering close.
The Royal Ballet’s ‘Jewels’ is at the Royal Opera House until 21 April.